MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – The temperature rises to more than 100 degrees in Ramadi, Iraq, as a Marine puts on his gear and prepares for another day of patrolling. Just a few hours ago he had been taking an exam for a college level history class, now he must switch his mindset from academics to combat.
Even with the numerous stresses brought on by a combat environment, Sgt. Charles Swope, a team leader with 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, earned his master’s degree in Business Administration during three combat deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I remember my platoon sergeant saying that I would never have time for college classes being an infantryman,” said Swope, a native of Coral Springs, Fla. “He was shocked when I told him I just graduated my first course with an A.”
While working on his degree, Swope found himself engaging enemy forces then returning to his forward operating base to take an exam the same day. Swope even paid a local café to let him use their Internet just to access his online courses while he was deployed to Iraq.
“It really puts a lot of stress on someone being put into that position where they’re under fire one minute, then returning to a classroom environment the next,” he said. “But if they really want to accomplish something, they will persist through anything to achieve that goal.”
Swope began his career as a rifleman, but sought to challenge himself by attending the Basic Reconnaissance Course, all while working towards his master’s degree.
“After graduating BRC, I was immediately put into a reconnaissance team as a point man and then deployed to Afghanistan,” he said. “This deployment we were constantly performing operations, giving me hardly any time to perform my schoolwork.”
Swope had to deal with the immense fatigue brought on by reducing his sleep in order to complete his courses.
“Most of the guys would just pass out as soon as we got back because we had been up for the last few days,” he said. “But I would have to stay up and continue working on classwork.”
Adrenaline from combat would still be surging through Swope as he sat down to do his work, keeping him awake and focused on his studies.
“That rush I had still going from combat would sometimes be the only thing that kept me alert during my classes,” he said. “The classwork also helped me come down off that rush and relax, which benefited me a lot while I was over there.”
Swope’s perseverance and dedication inspired many other Marines to follow in his footsteps and achieve their academic goals.
“He motivated me to keep pursuing my classwork,” said Cpl. Bobby Jackson, a maintenance management clerk with 1st Recon Bn. “If he can keep on pursuing his degree even with his deployments and everything he has been through, then I should have no excuse to stop.”
Swope said his experiences in the Marine Corps actually made some of his classwork easier. Classes such as international business and ones on culture became simpler because of his knowledge of different countries.
“Looking back on everything I would definitely say it’s worth it to pursue education while in the Marines,” said Swope. “Even though it took a lot of sacrifice on my end and sometimes questioned if I should continue or not.”
After Swope leaves the Marine Corps he plans to transition into a management role putting his degree to good use. With a goal in place and significant life experience, he is focused on success in the next chapter of his life.